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Greg Fergus is elected the first Black Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons!

Liberal MP Greg Fergus has been elected as the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his initial task is addressing the recent Yaroslav Hunka incident, which brought embarrassment to Parliament.

Fergus, representing the Hull-Aylmer riding in Quebec, near Ottawa, has made history as the first Black Speaker of the Commons. His colleagues selected him through a confidential ranked ballot vote.

In his pitch for the position, Fergus committed to improving decorum in the Commons, a challenge that previous Speakers have undertaken with limited success. Debates within the chamber often devolve into partisan disputes, with MPs frequently disregarding rules and engaging in heckling, especially during question periods.

Fergus expressed his commitment to fostering respect and decorum, stating, “Respect and decorum — I’m going to be working hard on this, and I need all your help to make this happen. Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect and we show Canadians that example. There can be no dialogue unless there’s a mutual understanding of respect.”

Before the vote, Fergus acknowledged the historic nature of becoming the first Black person in this role but emphasized that his candidacy was based on his qualifications to enforce rules and maintain order in Parliament impartially.

The Speaker’s responsibilities include preserving order and decorum in Parliament, ensuring MPs adhere to rules and procedures, and managing the House’s administration and finances. While Speakers do not partake in debates, they have the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed. Additionally, they oversee interactions between the Senate and the Crown and handle ceremonial duties such as hosting dignitaries and representing the Commons internationally.

The Speaker’s role comes with certain privileges, including a small apartment in West Block and an official estate in Gatineau Park known as The Farm.

ABOUT GREG FERGUS

He is the son of Montserratian parents. During the Second World War, Greg Fergus’s great-grandmother undertook a remarkable act. She swapped the identities of her two sons, intending to enable one of them to leave the small British protectorate of Montserrat for a brighter future. The younger son, who would later become Greg’s grandfather, was not old enough to enlist in the RAF, a potential means of escape for Black individuals during that era. Recognizing this, great-grandma orchestrated a switch, having her younger son assume the identity of his “ne’er-do-well” older brother. This ruse allowed him to join the RAF and eventually make his way to Montreal’s renowned Little Burgundy neighbourhood.

Greg’s father, Cyril, a high school teacher, made a pivotal decision in the 1980s during a teachers’ strike. He removed Greg from public school and sent him to Selwyn House, a prestigious private boys’ school in Westmount. Cyril and Greg’s mother emphasized the importance of education, despite their inability to provide financial resources or connections.

In 1988, Greg Fergus embarked on a new chapter of his life at the University of Ottawa. This move marked a significant milestone in his journey into the world of parliamentary politics. The opportunity to join the Parliamentary Page program was a dream come true for Fergus. He remarked, “Without being elected, I got to walk on the green carpet!” His year-long role as a page, involving various tasks for esteemed members of Parliament, solidified his impression that politicians could possess depth beyond the two-dimensional image often portrayed.

Upon graduating, Fergus gained experience working for a couple of cabinet ministers before pursuing a degree in international relations at Carleton University. During this period, he assumed the role of president of the Young Liberals of Canada, where he made a mark by leading the organization to become one of the first major political entities to recognize same-sex marriage officially.

In the 2015 federal election, Fergus was nominated as the Liberal candidate in Hull—Aylmer, a traditionally Liberal riding that had fallen to the New Democratic Party in the previous election. Some controversy attended the contest, as NDP incumbent Nycole Turmel accused Fergus’ campaign of spreading rumours that she was terminally ill, which Fergus denied. Fergus won the election by over 11,000 votes in a race that was expected to be close by the New Democratic Party and Liberals.

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